I sat on the red and white mosaic floor, elbows propped up on knees, arms dangling idly, and took a long draw of my cigarette. The tip blazed and burned and I could hear the soft crackling sound of smoldering paper. I blew the acrid smoke out over the wrought iron railing and into the courtyard where the sounds of families chattering in Hungarian mingled with the dinnertime sounds of pots and pans rattling and water running. The sky darkened slowly with the coming of night and a soft breeze rustled my hair and the same dirty clothes I had been wearing for the last three days. I was alone. Aimless. Without purpose. But free…at least in some ways.
What an incredibly specific and unique feeling. It reminded me of late summer evenings in the cul-de-sac growing up. The warm Santa Ana winds that tasted like the setting sun. The sky ablaze with the fire of twilight. Small, tiny moments of peace and letting go. Isolated pockets of time where nothing else matters but that lived experience.
Idealized, romanticized, nostalgic. So beautiful, in part because it could never last. Part of me wishes I had been better at tolerating being in such an uncertain environment, that I could have stayed “free” longer. It’s hard to let go…
What would it be like to just live each and every moment as it occurs? To drop the story lines and accept the feelings that arise without trying to draw them out, avoid them, anticipate them, or make them last forever — that sounds like real freedom to me. Freedom from the fallacious lessons I have learned and taught to myself. Lessons from another life that are so hard to unlearn. Lessons like “you don’t matter,” or “hide yourself, hide the way you feel, or you will be forever disappointed.”
I am finally starting to unpack some of the things that I put away to prepare myself for the Peace Corps, to batten down the hatches in preparation for the tumultuous sea change I knew was coming. Old, painful truths. Things that feel deep and ancient. I feel these truths knocking on the door, pressing in, demanding to be heard, felt, and understood. Keeping them at bay is only causing me more pain, but some truths feel too hard to hold.
We like to think that only monsters or bad people can hurt us. But you don’t have to be a monster to cause pain to the ones you love — this is a truth I know all too well. Good people cause pain all the time, every day. We say “it wasn’t that bad.” We say “it could have been worse.” We conceal the impact even from ourselves — especially from ourselves. Because how could we accept that things that were so normal to us are actually the source of our pain?
There are so many tiny, beautiful things to enjoy in this world. So many small little moments, the very simplicity of which makes our lives so precious. But to see those things, to be awake, is to see everything. There is no picking and choosing. Joy and excitement and amusement and love let out everything else, too. Sometimes joy and happiness are the absence or relief of their opposite. Sometimes it feels easier to stay asleep.
I want to wake up. I want to be free. I want to accept the painful truths of my life and let them fill me, to become part of the whole instead of keeping them hidden away. I want my light to shine brightly. I want my heart, full of love, to be seen.